As we learned in the last unit, awakening, becoming more aware of the truths and realities that surround you and make up your life, is the first focus point in the LP Connection Framework. The second focus point is accountability. If you want to move forward, heal, and connect, number one you have to awaken and number two you have to be accountable.
What does it mean to be accountable? That’s easy, being accountable means taking responsibility for all your actions, good and bad. Being accountable means seeing and admitting that you have done something that is out of alignment, usually something that has harmed yourself or others. Being accountable means saying to yourself and others whom your actions have effected, “Yes, I did that and I take full responsibility.”
When we are accountable, we do not make excuses, we do not pretend, and we do not dissemble. When we are accountable, we make an honest assessment of our actions and the impacts that these actions have had on others, and we own what we have done.
Accountability is something that becomes very important as you walk an authentic spiritual path towards health and stronger connection. Indeed, the requirement for accountability comes immediately upon the heels of awakening. When you wake up and see the mess in the room, you also wake up to the awareness that you are responsible for some, though certainly not all, of that mess. For example, if you are an abusive spouse, when you wake up you will become aware of that abuse, and the mental health and physical consequences of that abuse, both for yourself and for the people who are your victims. If you are a CEO that exploits employees and manipulates consumers, when you wake up you will become aware of that exploitation and manipulation, and the consequences of that exploitation. If you are a teacher that bullies some students, when you wake up you will become aware of this fact. If you are a parent that has failed your children, well, you get the idea. If there is some mess in the room, and if you have contributed to that mess, when you wake up you will become aware of that fact. Once you become aware, you will have to be accountable for your contribution to the mess.
Becoming aware of your contribution to the mess is a natural outcome of awakening. When you wake up, you see the room, period. When you see the room, you see your contribution, period. When you see your contribution, you must be accountable for that.
Understand, the reason for this requirement is not so much moral as it is simply the nature of your Higher Self. As indicated in The Book of Light, your Consciousness, your highest self, is not evil or bad in any way. Your higher self, your soul, is an entity of intelligence, wisdom, power, responsibility, strength, compassion, and love. Your Highest Self is responsible for creation, particularly those aspects of creation with which it has interacted. When you connect, you connect with this Highest Self. When you connect with this Highest Self, you bring this Highest Self into your body, and forward into awareness. When you connect, you gradually become this Highest Self. When you become this Highest Self, as you do when you initiate and awaken, even if it is only for a moment or two, you look at the room, you look at the mess, and you do not ignore it or pretend it away—you assess and you take responsibility because that is what your Highest Self, which you are becoming when you practice connection, would do, without question and without hesitation.
If you like, you can think of your Highest Self as the most responsible, loving, wise, intelligent, compassionate, and loving parent that there ever was. When your Highest Self peaks through and sees the mess, it doesn’t pretend, avert its eyes, or make excuses; it assesses and takes immediate responsibility for whatever it has to be responsible for.
Or at least, that is what should happen.
Unfortunately, that is not always what happens. As noted in the section on awakening, often what happens when you awaken is that your bodily ego may experience guilt and shame. This is because, as noted in the last chapter, and in more detail in the unit on alignment a bit later, when you act out of alignment, and especially when you engage in acts that harm others, guilt and shame are invoked.
Of course, this is not a bad thing.
Guilt and shame are actually good emotions. Guilt and shame are Steering Emotions1 your higher Self uses in a system of Emotional Semaphore to try and “steer the ship,” so to speak, when the Bodily Ego is blind and asleep.2 As noted in the Great Awakening, Concepts and Techniques for Successful Spiritual Practice,3 emotions like guilt, shame, joy, satisfaction, are design features of the physical unit. Positive steering emotions of happiness and joy tell you that you are “on the right path.”
Positive emotions like joy and bliss steer you towards thoughts and activities that are in alignment with your Highest Self.
On the other hand, negative steering emotions of guilt, shame, and fear tell you that you are thinking or doing things that are out of alignment with Self. Negative emotions like guilt and shame steer you away from disjunctive thoughts and activity.
As such, steering emotions, even negative ones, are functional and healthy when you respond to them appropriately. Responding appropriately means doing more of what gives you joy and satisfaction, and doing less of what causes you guilt and shame. If you feel guilty because you are screaming at your children, or shame because you are exploiting your employees, you take responsibility for your actions and you stop, period. When you do that, the painful disjunctive feelings simply go away, and you progress towards better alignment.
Under healthy conditions, your response to guilt and shame would be unproblematic. If you were taught the true purpose of guilt and shame, then when you felt it, you would figure out why and modify your behaviour. The problem is that many of us are not taught about the true nature of guilt or shame and so instead of responding appropriately, we repress guilt and shame and keep on with our disjunctive behaviours. When we do that, disjuncture, misalignment, guilt, and shame build up. Then, one day you have an Awakening Experience at which point your bodily ego, your “little self,” wakes up and sees that it has acted badly and contributed to the mess in the room, possibly hurting many others in the process.
The problem, in this case, is it is not just one or two instances of disjunctive behaviour, it is dozens, maybe even hundreds, perhaps even thousands. The unfortunate truth is that when we spend our life repressing guilt and shame and failing to align our behaviour, our disjunctive actions build up. By the time we are thirty, forty, fifty, or older, our contribution to the mess might be quite substantial. As a parent, as a CEO, as a sexual predator, as an advertiser manipulating the masses in the pursuit of consumer growth, when awareness floods your vessel and you realize exactly what it is we have done, the guilt and shame, which may have built up under repression for decades, might flow like water bursting a dam. The guilt and shame can be so overwhelming and so seemingly beyond our ability to process that instead of taking responsibility, instead of being accountable, we instantly and instinctively use ARMs to avoid, reduce awareness, and shut the pain down. What else can we do? We avoid the pain of guilt and shame that has accumulated over years and even decades by shutting our awareness back down.
What do we do if this is our experience?
What if when we awaken we are so overwhelmed with guilt and shame at the damage we have caused that we simply cannot bring ourselves to say, “Yes, I did that.”
As silly as this might sound to some, simply forgive yourself. No matter what you have done, no matter how horrible it is, simply forgive yourself. Sure, you may have done some horrible things in your life. Sure, you may have hurt a lot of people, perhaps even children. Sure, when you finally start to wake up you are going to realize you may have done a lot of bad things. But regardless of what you did, if you want to move forward, you simply have to forgive yourself.
What else is there to do?
If you do not forgive yourself, you won’t be able to move forward. If you don’t forgive yourself, the guilt and shame caused by your awareness will eventually overwhelm, and you will shut the light off and go back to sleep. It’s inevitable and frankly, beyond your control. The physical unit is programmed to avoid pain and seek pleasure. The only way forward, therefore, is to face whatever it is you have done, walk through the guilt and shame. Only by doing that will you be able to be accountable and take full responsibility.
Weaponizing Your Emotions
Of course, saying you should forgive yourself because this is the only way forward and actually doing it are two different things. The reality is, forgiving yourself can be really hard to do, not only because we may have accumulated a lot of disjunctive acts, and hurt a lot of people, but also because guilt and shame are weaponized against us by our cultural and religious traditions. Guilt and shame are steering emotions, that is true; but these emotions are also easy to manipulate and exploit by people, institutions, governments, and corporations that want to control your behaviour. And they do. And we do. All cultures of the world weaponize guilt and shame to one extent or another,4 and until we are taught different, all people participate in that weaponization. Parents, siblings, teachers, priests, coworkers, even friends regularly use guilt and shame to control your behaviour. Parents are usually the worst off. There are virtually no checks on parental behaviour towards their children, and some parents literally torture their children with guilt and shame in order to keep them in line and under control. Priests, of course, use threats of exclusion and eternal damnation to invoke and reinforce guilt and shame. Teachers often do the same, in the old days going so far as putting dunce caps on children in order to beat them with public shame. The weaponization of guilt and shame is everywhere, really.
Of course, as already noted, guilt and shame are not bad emotions. Guilt and shame are supposed to help you control your behaviour. Guilt and shame are steering emotions and when they are properly linked to your internal compass, they do their job well. But when guilt and shame are weaponized in the interests of external control of your behaviour, they don’t function properly. Instead, they become pathological. When guilt and shame are used against you by external sources, they become not something you respond to in order to steer the vehicle, but something to avoid at all costs because of the intense pain that is involved. When guilt and shame are weaponized, you learn not to be accountable and change your behaviour, you learn to avoid taking responsibility and lie about what you have done.
You can understand this more clearly if we do a simple thought experiment. Imagine you are a six year old boy playing with a frog and you accidentally squish that frog. A healthy six year old will feel bad about killing that frog, and this bad feeling will reduce the likelihood that this behaviour does not repeat in the future. Now imagine that the child’s abusive parent sees the dead frog and instead of assuaging the guilt and explaining gently about being careful with live animals, the parent guilt and shames the child mercilessly. What do you think the child will learn from that? When guilt and shame are weaponized like this, by parents, priests, teachers, or whomever, then the next time the child does something that invokes guilt and shame, its post-traumatic response will not be to change behaviour but to desperately hide what it did so it won’t be exposed to further trauma.
This is the same for all of us who have experienced the weaponization of guilt and shame. When awareness of a disjunctive action is brought to our awareness, for example, if we trigger in you the memory of something bad you did that one time long ago, you are not going to say, “Yes, I did that,” even to yourself; you are going to have a post-traumatic response. You will desperately try to cover it up so you can a) pretend that it never happened and b) avoid being accountable for your actions because c) you have been taught that being accountable brings on the pain. Of course, if you do that, if you pretend that you never did that, or if you make excuses for the shitty thing that you did, you won’t be acknowledging your disjunctive action, you will be repressing awareness that you did it. If you do that, you are not moving forward, you are going back to sleep.
Obviously, the toxic way societies and religions teach people to weaponize guilt is a problem. It is a problem because it makes it harder to heal and connect by making it harder to stay aware and acknowledge your past actions. The unreasonable guilt and shame we experience as a consequence of the weaponization of these emotions is one reason you may have trouble being accountable for your actions, but there is more. Punishment is also something that is associated with social control.
Remember the little boy with the frog.
Chances are he wasn’t just shamed for his actions. Chances are, he was punished (read abused) for them as well. This is true for everybody. As children, as adolescents, even as adults, we are often assaulted when we do something “wrong.” This assault can be psychological, emotional, physical, or even spiritual.
Just like guilt and shame are used to try and control your behaviour, assault is also an attempt to control your behaviour. The use of punishment is ubiquitous. The reality is, we all have the experience of being punished for actions that some parent, teacher, priest, CEO, or whatever, thought was wrong.
Punishment is, of course, and ineffective way of controlling behaviour. While it might work in the short term, in the long term all it does is teach us to lie to others about our actions. If I did something bad, for example, and I think that you finding out about it will expose me to some form of punishment, like verbal assault, physical assault, or jail time, I am not going to admit for fear of pain and assault. Instead, I am going to hide and deny. If being accountable means I am going to be punished, I am going to do whatever I can to avoid that punishment. Of course, If I do that, I’m not going to be able to move forward. If I’m not accountable for the bad things I have done, I am going to stay stuck in the somnambulism of normal consciousness, constantly invoking ARMs in order to avoid the guilt, shame, and fear.
So what do you do? When you wake and realize you’ve done some bad shit, how do you move forward past the guilt, shame, and fear? We’re not going to lie, that’s a challenge, especially when you live in a society, or go to a Church, or hang out with friends, or live in a family, where guilt, shame, and punishment are regular weapons of choice. However, here are a couple of things you can do to make it easier to forgive yourself and move forward.
Number one, remember that guilt and shame are steering emotions. They are not designed to hurt you; they are designed to help your Highest Self communicate with the Bodily Ego that controls the vessel. They are there to help You5 steer the physical unit. If you feel bad about doing something, stop doing that and you’ll feel better. If you find you have repressed guilt and shame, and if you find yourself suddenly triggered, remember, it is not about making you feel bad, it is about You teaching you to be You. Figuring out what your Highest Self wants and doing that is the fastest, and only, way to alleviate guilt and shame. Everything else is simply repression.
Number two, remember that guilt and shame have been weaponized and as such, your experience of them has been distorted. You need to remember this fact so you can learn to develop a healthier relationship with your guilt and shame. If you feel guilt and shame and if it threatens to overwhelm, remember the weaponization because you need to protect yourself from this weaponization. To protect yourself from this weaponization, first ask people politely to stop weaponizing your emotions. If they don’t immediately stop, then avoid these people as much as you can. Remember, these people, these organizations, are not performing a useful social or spiritual function for you. In fact, exactly the opposite is true. People who use guilt and shame are damaging your body’s emotional systems and making it harder for you to move forward and connect. If you keep exposing yourself to that abuse, you won’t be able to get things under control and you’ll never be able to acknowledge and move forward.
Number three, it might help you to use a cleansing visualization. A Cleansing Visualization is a visualization that helps you remove emotional toxins, like accumulated guilt and shame, from your body’s emotional systems. To do a cleansing visualization, see your body standing up, covered with a thick coating of wet, gloppy, black gunk. This gunk is guilt and shame, also fear and anger. Tell yourself that you are awake and aware and that you will do what you need to move forward towards stronger connection. Say to yourself, and others, that you no longer need to carry this guilt and shame. Now, with these thoughts in mind, visualize your hands scrapping the gloppy mess off. Start at your head and work down to your toes, slowly and carefully scrapping the black tar with your hands, and wiping it off your body. As you do this, you slowly begin to reveal a beautiful, gold glowing figure previously hidden by the inky gunk. When you have finished scraping the gunk off your body, stand tall, strong, proud, powerful, and brightly shining with the light of your own Highest Self. Repeat as necessary.
Finally, number four, if you do find yourself confronting large and previously unrecognized caches of guilt and shame, that is, if you have done unaligned things in your past and if these things have remained out of awareness and unacknowledged, remember points one, two, and three, and take a few deep breaths. Calm yourself. Remember, guilt and shame are designed as steering emotions. They are not precursors to punishment and damnation. They are only there to let you know when you are doing something out of alignment with your own Highest Self. If you want to move forward and connect, figure out what that might be and admit (acknowledge) it to yourself and relevant others. When you do that, you’ll find you feel better and more empowered almost immediately.
Of course, it needs to be said here that just admitting you have done something wrong is not enough. It is only the second step. You have to become aware, you have to acknowledge, but you also have to make up for rotten behaviour that has hurt others. In other words, you have to atone. Don’t worry. Unlike what you might expect, atonement is not punishment. Just like guilt and shame are not meant to provide an avenue of torture and social control, atonement is not meant to harm or hurt you either. Atonement is just “making it right” so your Highest Self can come sit in the body. We will look at this aspect of the LP Connection framework in the next unit. Until then, don’t forget, forgive yourself.
- What are steering emotions? What are they used for? Think about your own emotional responses now. Do you feel guilt and shame? Do you feel joy and bliss? Around what actions, activities, or thoughts do you feel these emotions? Consider past and current thoughts and actions. If comfortable, share your self-discoveries with the group.
- Psychic infection and addiction, caused by our experience of toxic socialization, are obstacles that make understanding, processing, and releasing guilt and shame a major challenge. Think about your own situation. Do you have any addictions (shopping, alcohol, smoking, running, etc.) that might be interfering with your ability to understand, process, and release guilt and shame? Do you have any negative neurosis or pathologies that might be functioning and repressions and distractions? Share with the group.
- As noted, people unintentionally and intentionally weaponize guilt and shame. They do this to control our behaviour. Think about your family, friends, coworkers, and employers. Do any of them use guilt and shame to manipulate your behaviour? If so, what are some things that you can do to stop that weaponization. Do you use guilt and shame as a weapon to control? If so, what are some things that you do to stop that weaponization?
1Note that mainstream healing professionals don’t understand the positive aspects of steering emotions like guilt and shame. Many professional helpers do not understand the purpose of guilt and shame; instead, they assume these are negative emotions and focus on repressing or removing guilt and shame through cognitive/behavioural techniques. It should be clear at this point that this practice is not therapeutic at all.
2Under healthy conditions, your Highest Self would not need to use emotions this way. When you are connected, you are aligned and in constant communication when your Highest Self. When you are connected, you are your highest self, one hundred percent; when you are aligned, you easily know the difference between right and wrong just like you know your birth name. However, when you are disconnected, you are “driving blind,” so to speak. When you are disconnected, you do not know who your Highest Self is (i.e. you do not know who You are) and what your Highest Self wants. Therefore, when you are driving disconnected, your Highest Self uses the emotional mechanisms of the physical unit like a steering wheel. It uses positive emotions to indicate alignment and it uses negative emotions to indicate misalignment. Your Higher Self steers the vehicle by using emotions to guide the bodily ego’s thoughts and actions.
3##Michael Sharp, The Great Awakening: Concepts and Techniques for Successful Spiritual Practice (St. Albert, Alberta, Canada: Lightning Path Press, 2007).
4If you’re interested in learning more, a good place to start is the Wikipedia page on Guilt-shame-fear cultures https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guilt-shame-fear_spectrum_of_cultures
5We use the word You with a capital “Y” to refer to your spiritual ego or Highest Self, and you with a lower case “y” to refer to your bodily ego, or little self.